Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
In a postscript appended to the story in the handwriting of Diedrich Knickerbocker (Washington Irving’s gentle burlesque on old Dutch New Yorkers and the fictive annotator of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., 1819-1820, in which this tale was published), the Dutchman records his having heard this story from an old, “dry-looking” gentleman described as possessing features strikingly like those of Ichabod Crane. When pressed for a moral, the storyteller replies: “[H]e that runs races with goblin troopers is likely to have rough riding of it.” This, indeed, sums up a recurring theme in Irving’s sketches: the results of the culture clash between industrious and poor but to some degree unscrupulous Yankees and the hardheaded and prosperous but also wily Dutch.
Neither the Dutch nor the Yankee newcomers possess a clear moral superiority. Here, for example, Ichabod has only a slightly better education than the Dutch children he teaches, and he would marry Katrina not from love but for her father’s wealth. Similarly, Brom recognizes the threat to his interests and in his own rough way thwarts his Yankee opponent. Because Katrina does not appear especially attractive or faithful, Brom’s motives hardly seem purer than those of Ichabod.